News Story

Public Sector Pay Transparency All About Accountability

House-passed bill only goes half-way

State Rep. Julie Brixie, D-East Lansing, voted against a bill that would require the state to regularly post the titles and salaries (but not names) of public employees.

House Bill 5015 was passed by the House and has been referred to the Senate committee on oversight.

“I’m not really sure why we’re wasting our time creating laws that are unnecessary,” Brixie said, as quoted by MIRS News. “So, we’re requiring our departments to post salary information every month. And people can already get this information. It just seems like a waste of energy for us. We should really be working on solving specific problems that we have in our state, fixing our roads, addressing our budget constraints.”

The first-term representative has introduced 16 bills and resolutions, including legislation to authorize triple damages for violating rules (currently in bill form) on pay equity, and another to prescribe prescribing procedures for hospital “baby boxes” to be used by new mothers surrendering an infant.

It would, however, be a mistake to think that publishing the salaries of public servants is a trivial act, certainly not when they can be attached to names.

Perhaps the most prevalent example of why it is important is the routine understatement of public employee salaries in the media. Reporters often accept the claims of low pay made by teachers and union officials. Media outlets also frequently give a platform to teachers complaining of distressingly low pay rates. And stories of individuals struggling with low salaries are a staple of teachers union websites, but rarely with any mention of actual salaries — information that could give important context to the claims.

When media outlets, the public school establishment and allied nonprofit groups uncritically repeat such claims year after year, distorted public policy can result. Public schooling is the most visible example of where this is true, but the pattern is not unique to education.

Michigan Capitol Confidential has reported many examples of this.

A Lansing teacher who was profiled on the Michigan Education Association website, for example, said she felt bad after having splurged on a $7 bottle of nail polish. Not mentioned in the story was that this newer teacher’s salary had increased from $39,802 in 2016 to $60,898 in 2019.

The teachers unions has also promoted the story of Utica Community Schools teacher Liza Parkinson, who said she had to work as an Uber driver to make ends meet. Those stories never mentioned Parkinson’s school salary in 2019: $105,222, plus benefits.

Beyond exposing dubious pay claims, shining a light on public sector salaries can also reveal questionable stewardship of taxpayer dollars.

For example, the Detroit Police Department launched an investigation after Michigan Capitol Confidential reported on a police officer who claimed 2,617.2 hours of overtime in fiscal year 2018. This officer collected more than $100,737 in overtime that year.

It was also the release of public salaries that revealed that the city of Flint paid $857,663 over a three-year period to employees to essentially stay at home.

That was how much those staffers collected from 2016 to 2018 to be on call and be available for work if needed – in their homes.

One employee received $19,948 in standby time in 2018.